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the quality of bringing one into direct and instant involvement with something, giving rise to a sense of urgency or excitement – OS X Mavericks online dictionary

Growing up (which I hope some day to actually complete) electronic studio flash (strobe) was the holy grail. It was new, expensive, and oh-so-out-of-reach. I admired the advertising and fashion photography of Bert Stern, how crisp the images were when exposed with his exotic strobes. I was drawn into them.

Fast forward and now it is very rare that I do not use strobe. Part of it is necessity: there is simply not enough light in studio to capture, for example, dancers in flight, from the ambient. Part of it is aesthetic: I don’t particularly like my subjects illuminated with the same key as my background, for example, when out of doors. So I bring my own. Both aspects are no doubt linked to those feelings I experienced in my younger days.

Ambient lighting tends to soften; strobe tends to sharpen. At least in my view.

The irony of course is that, especially out of doors, we who use strobe try to make it look like we didn’t. This does not escape me :).

Inside it doesn’t seem to matter as much. I can usually tell (as can you) that an image has been lit (with strobe). I’m not so sure either of us cares. That fact is just not that important in evaluating the image. This is particularly the case with dancers leaping about, as Kristen is doing here:

 © Donald J. Fadel, Jr. |

 I’m not sure the fact that a single studio head was used to illuminate the scene is either important or even cognizant. However, the side effect of using that strobe – the crispness, the sense of captured motion – is. She is frozen in time and space by that strobe, with photons being emitted in the 1/5000 second range. The shutter is open much longer than that – 1/200 second – and she is traveling across the imager plane during that time. Had the ambient been strong enough to register at my f/5.6 aperture, you would have seen it. But it’s not. All you see is provided by that wink of electronically produced light.

That single, high, source can fool the eye. Sunlight? Believable. The photographer in me knows that is not the case. It is the strobe’s gift of immediacy here. Of captured time. Another death of the moment, the subject suspended as if by invisible fishing line. It is the allure of the strobe.

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